Designed by: Richard Garfield
Published by: IELLO
Review copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games.
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King of Tokyo might just be one of the very best games I’ve ever played for showing non-gamers just how much fun games can be. In it you’ll take control of one of six awesome monsters in a bid to score 20 points before your friends by rolling dice and wrecking Tokyo city in a pleasing homage to the Kaiju genre of movies. It’s fast, easy to play and hugely entertaining. Plus, there’s a space penguin. As a relative boardgame noob who has never played King of Tokyo before this 2016 re-release is the perfect time to check out it out and see why it’s so popular.
Having selected an appropriately bad-ass monster to trample Tokyo with you snatch up the six pleasingly chunky dice and hurl them across the table, or into a dice box if you’re a bit posh like me. These dice are the core of the game, the things with which you’ll do almost everything. After you’ve rolled you can opt to keep whatever results you want, and reroll the rest. You can repeat this once more, allowing for three roles per turn in order to let attempt to focus on a specific strategy. Or at least, you can try, because as well all know dice are fickle creatures that love to toy with our pitiful human emotions.
So what arcane symbols reside upon these dice? Well, firstly there are numbers with which you score points. Roll three matching numbers and you’ll score that many points, thus if you manage to get three ones you’ll get a single point, and if you get three twos you’ll get two points. And if you roll three threes you’ll get? Three. Well done. Have a cookie, you smart person, you. Every additional matching number scores a bonus point as well, so with the basic six dice the maximum amount of points you could theoretically get in a single roll is six, although I’ve never seen that actually happen and if it somehow did I would probably burn the person who did it for witchcraft.
Points only account for three sides of each die, though, so let’s chat about what is left. You can also get energy symbols which give you little green cubes, which can in turn be spent to purchase powerful cards from the three available on the table. These cards offer a suite of cool abilities, ranging from growing an extra head that grants a bonus die for the rest of the game to a Skyscraper that gives you extra points when discarded, translating to your monster basically smashing up something really big. You can get jetpacks for escaping Tokyo without taking damage, Nova Breath that lets you pummel everyone at the table and so much more. The deck is fairly large and whenever a card is bought a new one is immediately drawn to replace it. There’s even tentacles that slither across the table to let you buy cards off of other players, with or without their consent. These cards are thematically awesome. I can’t tell you how cool it feels to take control of a Mecha Dragon and outfit him with a second head, a jetpack and maybe even a device that freezes time whenever you roll some points, letting you take a second turn using one less die. The variety on offer is great, and deciding whether to save up and try to get a couple of these cards is a big part of the game.
Next up you can roll cute little hearts that let you heal up your chosen beast. One point of damage can be removed for every heart rolled, and should you ever reach zero health you’re dead and out of the game entirely. Best not to let that happen, then.
Finally, there are the clawed hands which denote punching stuff in the face. The first person to get one of these in their final dice result occupies the Tokyo city slot on the small central board, an honor which immediately grants them one victory point, and a bonus two points every time they begin their turn in Tokyo. Trashing the city is clearly a worthy pursuit, then, but there are some caveats to being there. First of all every punch you roll while in Tokyo will hit all the monsters currently outside of the city, but the catch is that every punch they roll will hit you square in the monstrous jaw. Worst of all you can’t heal up while in Tokyo, with the exception of any cards you play, making you quite the target. To retreat you have to wait until you take damage, and then yield the city to your attacker, letting them stomp in and take over in your stead.
This is where King of Tokyo’s thin layer of strategy comes from, as knowing when to enter Tokyo and when to stay out is very, very important to emerging as the victor. There’s not much point in rolling a pile of punches and forcing someone out of the city if you’ve barely got any health anyway, so there are moments when the table as a whole will simply let one player hold Tokyo while they regroup. Indeed, if King of Tokyo has genuine flaw it’s that fighting for Tokyo sometimes doesn’t feel worth it unless there’s just two or three people playing. Staying outside and being able to roll points and heal up can be a much more alluring prospect, although if the monster in Tokyo manages to keep tossing out punches he/she/it could win the game by simply beating everything else to death. Which, let’s face it, is a much more awesome way of winning that just grabbing some points.
What’s genuinely brilliant about King of Tokyo is that despite its reliance on dice to drive the action there is strategy involved in playing it. Not lots, but enough to help keep it fun and interesting, and to make it feel like the player are engaged in the action rather than just doing whatever the dice tells them to do. Rerolling gives you a chance to focus on a specific strategy, be that just grabbing points or holding Tokyo and doing enough damage to everyone else to keep them healing rather than doing anything. Meanwhile the cards constantly tempt you into spending a turn or three banking some energy cubes so you can enter the fray with a raft of awesome abilities. Finally there’s the prospect of Tokyo itself, because even while I do argue it perhaps needs to be made a little more worthwhile reading the table can be important, and if everyone else is busy doing other things sneaking in their with an ability that lets you maximise damage to everyone can earn you a nice little lead. Plus, choosing how long to stay in the city brings a nice element of risk vs reward to the game.
The game scales reasonably well, too with one exception; Although it can support 2-players I’d generally recommend avoid that as it just isn’t hugely interesting, but with 3-6 players the game is just immensely fun. With five or six people around the table a second spot in Tokyo opens up so that two monsters can rampage through the city at the same time, but of course with so many folk taking part it takes a while for those 2 points to come back around.
If you’re wondering what the differences are between this new, revised 2016 edition and the original are then the answer isn’t much, mostly boiling down to some cosmetic changes. Two characters have been removed, namely Cyber Bunny and Kraken, and have been replaced with Space Penguin and Cyber Kitty. Artwork for the rest of the monsters has been changed completely, and which one you prefer is obviously down to you. I don’t have the original version of the game here for comparison so you’ll need to do a quick Google check, but personally I like the art and quickly found Gigazaur to be my favorite. Probably because he’s basically Godzilla with a different name. Meanwhile a couple of the cards have been tweaked and a few rules clarified, but no major changes have been made to how it plays. In other words if you already own King of Tokyo then there doesn’t seem to be any reason to consider purchasing the 2016 version unless you desperately want the two new characters.
But what if you’re like me and don’t own King of Tokyo already? It’s an easy recommendation. King of Tokyo has become a firm favorite of mine and of my friends, so much so that it actually jumped the review que because it has been played that much. It’s the perfect light filler game; anybody can learn the rules in just a few minutes, there’s just enough strategy to keep everyone feeling engaged, it plays in about 30-minutes at a quick pace and above all else it’s fun. You get to roll chunky dice and buy cards to make your already awesome monster even more awesomer and then pretend to trample Tokyo while fighting off your friends. I love it.
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